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Free Will in Montaigne, Pascal, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Sartre

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Mary Efrosini Gregory

Free Will in Montaigne, Pascal, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Sartre takes the reader on a journey through the corridors of time to explore the evolution of thought regarding free will. The arguments and works presented in this volume raise critical and timeless issues for ethicists, the criminal justice system and the responsible citizen. Montaigne held that humans can break out of the determinist confines of their given cultures and acquired habits by employing reason, welcoming change and promoting education. In The Nun, Diderot chronicles portraits of pathology, records symptoms and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the unfortunate victims are products of nature, nurture or both. Rousseau thought that civilized man, having joined society, surrenders his free will to the general will to enjoy protection of his person, family and property. Sartre, an indeterminist, averred that since humans have the capacity to be self-reflective, they can exercise creativity with regard to who and how they choose to be from moment to moment. Freud observed that we are marionettes whose strings are commandeered by various realms competing for dominance – the conscious and subconscious; id, ego and superego. Bernays, Freud’s nephew, employed psychoanalytic theory as a tool to advise corporations how to entice the public to purchase their products when confronted with a range of choices. This book opens the door to lively classroom discussion on moral issues. French literature, philosophy, psychology and political science classes will find it an invaluable source presenting a wealth of views on free will.

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Conclusion 220

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Conclusion The people always have some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness…This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector.1 —Plato, The Republic (360 BC) Now that we have traversed the millennia and examined biblical passages, philosophy, and scientific experiments tangent upon free will, let us fast for- ward to the present day to address the ultimate experiment in neuroscience: the downloading of memories into the brains of rats. See the following scientific article: Theodore W. Berger et al., “A Cortical Neural Prosthesis for Restoring and Enhancing Memory.”2 A summary appears in Benedict Carey, “Memory Implant Gives Rats Sharper Recollection.”3 National Public Radio’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook featured the story in a program aired on June 21, 2011. In preparation for this experiment, scientists embedded electrical probes into the brains of rats. Then the scientists taught the rats a new activity, i.e., which of two identical levers to press to receive water. They recorded the neural firings of the brain when the subject learns a new activity and stored the information in a computer. After the rats learned the new activity, the scientists impaired their mem- ory pharmacologically and tested them to confirm that they could no longer remember what to do. Then they downloaded the information from the com- puter back into their brains and the rats recovered their memory and knew what to do. The next step...

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